Without A Building, How A Mass. Virtual School Handles Student Walkout

Mar 13, 2018

It was not lost on students who attend an online public school in Massachusetts that an attack like at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month in Parkland, Florida, could never happen to them.

The Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School is one of two such academies in the state, operating outside the realm of a traditional brick-and-mortar building.

For weeks at physical schools all around New England, students have been quite vocal about participating in the upcoming national student walkout to protest gun violence and current gun control laws. But Judy Houle, director of the virtual school, said her students haven’t said much of anything about it to their teachers.

“I do think students have a deep sense of sympathy for students who have been through this,” Houle said.

Still, typical hallway and lunchroom exchanges that Houle described as “those things where kids might feed off of one another's other’s energy in different ways,” don’t take place at a virtual school.

So on March 14th, through their usual video and chat platform, the school's 425 middle and high school students, and their teachers, will hold a moment of silence at the start of classes -- though not for the full 17 minutes like at Wednesday's planned walkouts.

Educators are looking at what’s ahead, beyond this one day, Houle said. They've been talking to students, kindergarten on up, about broader issues that came out of the shooting, like isolation and kindness. More of the latter, Houle said, can prevent shootings in the first place.  

Full disclosure: GCVS is an NEPR underwriter.

Correction: A broadcast version of this story said GCVS is the only online school in Massachusetts. It was the first, but in 2014, a second school opened.